Android Aside: Enchanced Email is the best app for Exchange ActiveSync account

While most android issues or apps do not fall under the umbrella of linux or foss by any means, some android solutions are less obnoxious than others from a linux/foss user standpoint. Therefore I want to give shoutouts to an app from time to time for the achievement of being The Lesser Evil.

Today I spent some time researching and trying out various solutions for getting Exchange ActiveSync to work on my Samsung Nexus. The Exchange client in stock Android used to do the trick for me but not so in Cyanogenmod 10.2.*. While email and contacts synced, the client no longer added a calendar to the device’s list of synced calendars. Furthermore the stock app required – as it also had previously – adding the Exchange account administrators to the device’s list of remote administrators. What this means – or at least appears to mean – is that I had to give the Exchange account administrators the right to remotely wipe my device. This is just to name the most frightening of a laundry list of rights the app informed me I was signing over whenever I added the email account. My problem with this was that this was my device, not the company’s and this setup was obviously designed for company owned and strictly controlled phones.

To cut to the chase I have tried out a few paid apps (trial versions) to see if any would allow me to a) sync email, calendar and contacts from my work account and b) avoid signing over my personal phone to some random it guy who happens to be in charge of email accounts.

And the winner is: Enhanced Email from Boxer. It is – as are all serious contenders in this category – a paid app but a fairly cheap one at around $10 US. A shortlived (hint: don’t install just before the working week is done) but fullfeatured trial version can be found at the developer’s forum.

Enhanced Email checks the above boxes. There is no sight of the device administrator screen when adding an account and post-install checks have confirmed that the app doesn’t add itself to the list of DAs. Contacts are synced into the general list of contacts – the Google ‘People’ app – and calendars are synced so that they can be added to whatever calendar app you prefer using – stock, Calendar Droid (my current choice for it’s big beautiful widget), etc. The client doesn’t come with a separate calendar or contacts manager but then there’s no need for either given the integration with stock. Email, however, is only accessible in the app’s email client itself. A strange shortcoming is that while calendar events can be added and edited, the same does not apply for contacts. Contacts fromt your account are readonly and no new ones can be added. So beware if this is a dealbreaker for you.

For each account added you have a generous amount of customization options – what and how much to sync, color codings etc. Technically you can use it to add other kinds of email – POP3, IMAP – to blend into one big inbox but given the state of the interface I would advise against it. The GUI is probably the only failing I can find with the app as the email client is neither pretty nor particularly innovative. Given that this sort of choice is about work, convenience and security and not pretty, this is really a minor quibble. And there’s always the option of disabling email syncing and adding an IMAP account – if your workplace supports it – to another email client.

To name some of the other apps I tested:

  • Nine had the same features and a much nicer interface but required adding the account to device administrators.
  • Moxier Mail did not require device administrator rights but didn’t sync the calendar. Instead it featured access to your Exchange calendar in it’s own rather nasty calendar tab.
  • The granddaddy in the category is TouchDown. I didn’t try it as the naming of the five or six TouchDown apps in the Play store was confusing and the fullfeature version had a price tag of around $20 US. Also it looks like it’s still stuck in Froyo land.

All in all, ten bucks to assert some small measure of freedom in the otherwise rather unfree forced choice of Exchange is not too bad. Definitely the lesser evil.

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